An Edinburgh Eleven by James Matthew Barrie
An Edinburgh Eleven : I. Lord Rosebery
An Edinburgh Eleven : II. Professor Masson
An Edinburgh Eleven : III. Professor Blackie
An Edinburgh Eleven : IV. Professor Calderwood
An Edinburgh Eleven : V. Professor Tait
An Edinburgh Eleven : VI. Professor Fraser
An Edinburgh Eleven : VII. Professor Chrystal
An Edinburgh Eleven : VIII. Professor Sellar
An Edinburgh Eleven : IX. Mr. Joseph Thomson
An Edinburgh Eleven : X. Robert Louis Stevenson
An Edinburgh Eleven : XI. Rev. Walter C. Smith, D.D.

An Edinburgh Eleven : IV. Professor Calderwood

Here is a true story that the general reader may jump, as it is intended for Professor Calderwood himself. Some years ago an English daily paper reviewed a book entitled “A Handbook of Moral Philosophy.” The professor knows the work. The “notice” was done by the junior reporter, to whom philosophical treatises are generally intrusted. He dealt leniently, on the whole, with Professor Calderwood, even giving him a word of encouragement here and there. Still the criticism was severe. The reviewer subsequently went to Edinburgh University, and came out 144th in the class of moral philosophy.

That student is now, I believe, on friendly terms with Professor Calderwood, but has never told him this story. I fancy the professor would like to know his name. It may perhaps be reached in this way: He was the young gentleman who went to his classes the first day in a black coat and silk hat, and was cheered round the quadrangle by a body of admiring fellow-students, who took him for a professor.

Calderwood contrives to get himself more in touch with the mass of his students than some of his fellow-professors, partly because he puts a high ideal before himself, and to some extent because his subject is one that Scottish students revel in. Long before they join his class they know that they are moral philosophers; indeed, they are sometimes surer of it before they enrol than afterward. Their essays begin in some such fashion as this: “In joining issue with Reid, I wish to take no unfair advantage of my antagonist;” or, “Kant is sadly at fault when he says that——” or, “It is strange that a man of Locke’s attainments should have been blind to the fact——” When the professor reads out these tit-bits to the class, his eyes twinkle. Some students, of course, are not such keen philosophers as others. Does Professor Calderwood remember the one who was never struck by anything in moral philosophy until he learned by accident that Descartes lay in bed till about twelve o’clock every morning? Then it dawned on him that he, too, must have been a philosopher all his life without knowing it. One year a father and son were in the class. The father got so excited over volition and the line that divides right from wrong that he wrenched the desk before him from its sockets and hit it triumphantly, meaning that he and the professor were at one. He was generally admired by his fellow-students, because he was the only one in the class who could cry out “Hear, hear,” and even “Question,” without blushing. The son, on the other hand, was blasé, and would have been an agnostic, only he could never remember the name. Once a week Calderwood turns his class into a debating society, and argues things out with his students. This field-day is a joy to them. Some of them spend the six days previous in preparing posers. The worst of the professor is that he never sees that they are posers. What is the use of getting up a question of the most subtle kind, when he answers it right away? It makes you sit down quite suddenly. There is an occasional student who tries to convert liberty of speech on the discussion day into license, and of him the professor makes short work. The student means to turn the laugh on Calderwood, and then Calderwood takes advantage of him, and the other students laugh at the wrong person. It is the older students, as a rule, who are most violently agitated over these philosophical debates. One with a beard cracks his fingers, after the manner of a child in a village school that knows who won the battle of Bannockburn, and feels that he must burst if he does not let it out at once. A bald-headed man rises every minute to put a question, and then sits down, looking stupid. He has been trying so hard to remember what it is that he has forgotten. There is a legend of two who quarrelled over the Will and fought it out on Arthur’s Seat.

One year, however, a boy of sixteen or so, with a squeaky voice and a stammer, was Calderwood’s severest critic. He sat on the back bench, and what he wanted to know was something about the infinite. Every discussion day he took advantage of a lull in the debate to squeak out, “With regard to the infinite,” and then could never get any further. No one ever discovered what he wanted enlightenment on about the infinite. He grew despondent as the session wore on, but courageously stuck to his point. Probably he is a soured man now. For purposes of exposition, Calderwood has a blackboard in his lecture-room, on which he chalks circles that represent the feelings and the will, with arrows shooting between them. In my class there was a boy, a very little boy, who had been a dux at school and was a dunce at college. He could not make moral philosophy out at all, but did his best. Here were his complete notes for one day: “Edinburgh University; Class of Moral Philosophy; Professor Calderwood; Lecture 64; Jan. 11. 18—You rub out the arrow, and there is only the circle left.”

Professor Calderwood is passionately fond of music, as those who visit at his house know. He is of opinion that there is a great deal of moral philosophy in “The Dead March in Saul.” Once he said something to that effect in his class, adding enthusiastically that he could excuse the absence of a student who had been away hearing “The Dead March in Saul.” After that he received a good many letters from students, worded in this way: “Mr. McNaughton (bench 7) presents his compliments to Professor Calderwood, and begs to state that his absence from the class yesterday was owing to his being elsewhere, hearing ‘The Dead March in Saul.'” “Dear Professor Calderwood: I regret my absence from the lecture to-day, but hope you will overlook it, as I was unavoidably detained at home, practising ‘The Dead March in Saul.’ Yours truly, Peter Webster.” “Professor Calderwood: Dear Sir,—As I was coming to the lecture to-day, I heard ‘The Dead March in Saul’ being played in the street. You will, I am sure, make allowance for my non-attendance at the class, as I was too much affected to come. It is indeed a grand march. Yours faithfully, John Robbie.” “The students whose names are subjoined thank the professor of moral philosophy most cordially for his remarks on the elevating power of music. They have been encouraged thereby to start a class for the proper study of the impressive and solemn march to which he called special attention, and hope he will excuse them, should their practisings occasionally prevent their attendance at the Friday lectures.” Professor Calderwood does not lecture on “The Dead March in Saul” now.

The class of moral philosophy is not for the few, but the many. Some professors do not mind what becomes of the nine students, so long as they can force on every tenth. Calderwood, however, considers it his duty to carry the whole class along with him; and it is, as a consequence, almost impossible to fall behind. The lectures are not delivered, in the ordinary sense, but dictated. Having explained the subject of the day with the lucidity that is this professor’s peculiar gift, he condenses his remarks into a proposition. It is as if a minister ended his sermon with the text. Thus: “Proposition 34: Man is born into the world—(You have got that? See that you have all got it.) Man is born into the world with a capacity—with a capacity——” (Anxious student: “If you please, professor, where did you say man was born into?”) “Into the world, with a capacity to distinguish——” (“With a what, sir?”)—”with a capacity to distinguish——” (Student: “Who is born into the world?”) “Perhaps I have been reading too quickly. Man is born into the world, with a capacity to distinguish between—distinguish between——” (student shuts his book, thinking that completes the proposition)—”distinguish between right and wrong—right—and wrong. You have all got Proposition 34, gentlemen?”

Once Calderwood was questioning a student about a proposition, to see that he thoroughly understood it. “Give an illustration,” suggested the professor. The student took the case of a murderer. “Very good,” said the professor. “Now give me another illustration.” The student pondered for a little. “Well,” he said at length, “take the case of another murderer.”

Professor Calderwood has such an exceptional interest in his students that he asks every one of them to his house. This is but one of many things that makes him generally popular; he also invites his ladies’ class to meet them. The lady whom you take down to supper suggests Proposition 41 as a nice thing to talk about, and asks what you think of the metaphysics of ethics. Professor Calderwood sees the ladies into the cabs himself. It is the only thing I ever heard against him.

An Edinburgh Eleven : V. Professor Tait

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11